When I first sat down to write this review, I had a laundry list of topics to cover, and specific details to hash-out. After going down that path I realized that's probably not what would be most useful. I can likely communicate the pertinent info in a much shorter post, so that's what I'm doing. If for some reason people do indeed want detailed specifics with long, drawn out answers, I will come back and add content where needed. With that being said, here we go...
This article is broken down into several topics:
Let's cut to the chase. This is why you came here. The verdict? The Bostig kit is great!
I’m very happy with the Bostig install overall. I mean, just by the simple fact that someone like me with next to zero mechanic experience could pull off the install by myself is amazing when you really think about it. I literally didn't know what half (at least) of the stuff was called before diving in. As long as you're willing to learn and follow directions you will be fine. Will it be easy and frustration free? Probably not. But there is always an answer to your question. This leads us to...
The support is great. Between Bostig's official system and the (unofficial) Bostig Facebook Group, I had most questions answered within an hour; many times just mere minutes.
With that being said, Bostig is basically a one man show with Jim pretty much doing everything. This is great in the sense that all of your info comes from one source, and Jim really knows his stuff. The con in this is that he is sometimes hard to get ahold of because he’s so busy. For "simple stuff", this is where the Facebook Group can come in handy. Even though Jim will gladly answer any question you have, I felt bad taking up his time with "where does this bolt go", stuff like that.
However, Jim’s support at the end with trouble-shooting the engine was absolutely priceless. I cannot image having anything less. For someone new like me it seemed overwhelming at times, but Jim was there the whole time reassuring me that nothing was a big deal and that we would get it sorted out. He was right! Again, the Facebook Group was great for general "how to" questions, but trouble-shooting your first start and/or first drive is an entirely different scenario. Jim will analyze your data logs and give you feedback that other sources simply cannot answer. I can’t imagine not having that resource like the DIY Subaru (and others) conversions lack. I mean, what do they do, search the The Samba for answers? That’s sounds like hell to me.
Our Vanagon now drives like a normal car! Is it a speed demon? No. Can it keep up with traffic? YES. When our Vanagon had the old 1.9L Waterboxer (WBX) in it we were quit literally one of the slowest vehicles on the road. Think semi truck hauling a heavy load. We drove that thing with the pedal floored most of the time simply not to get run off the road. Any hill was the spawn of Satan, even a simple on-ramp, and you would lose speed immediately. Everything has changed with the Bostig.
The Bostig conversion handles very well. You get a nice bump in power but nothing too crazy where you have to worry about damaging other components like your transmission. Those Satanic hills? Obliterated by the Bostig Angels. When driving on the freeway our van will hold 4th gear on all but the steepest of hills, amazing! Not only that, but we can even accelerate up hills now, and can even pass other cars...imagine that?! Sure, we don't live out West where you have the Rocky Mountains, etc., but the Bostig has powered us through the Appalachians numerous times now with very minimal slow downs.
For a somewhat scientific measurement of the power difference, here's our 0 - 60 times:
1.9L Waterboxer: 32.5 seconds
Bostig Zetec: 18.0 seconds
That's a pretty significant difference, and you can definitely notice it. You're not going to be racing anyone with those numbers, but pulling out into traffic is no longer playing the lottery. You can safely get up to speed without issue. The Vanagon squarely falls into the "average vehicle" category now. You're not fast but you're not slow either.
Long story short, it's basically the same as the old Waterboxer. But...BUT...I can guarantee that I drive the van harder and faster with the new Bostig conversion. Combine this with the fact of going from 85 HP to 130 HP, and it's no contest.
Here's the lifetime breakdown for each engine:
Waterboxer: 18.0 MPG
Bostig Zetec: 17.5 MPG
Given the above facts, I will gladly sacrifice 0.5 MPG for better performance and acceleration. Zero complaints in my book.
I did quite a bit of research on this topic when we were deciding on which engine conversion to go with. I came to the conclusion that any worries about ground clearance were basically a non-issue, and quite frankly urban legends that no one had concrete evidence to support.
I think the biggest misconception is when people would compare apples-to-oranges, which was amazingly (and shockingly) common. There's no question that if you stick with the stock Zetec oil pan you will lose a solid 2 - 3 inches of clearance. However, it's very common for Bostig converters (and Subarus, etc.) to opt for the High Capacity / Clearance Oil Pan (HCOP). This was the case for us, and is the only fair apples-to-apples comparison. Bostig, Subaru, etc., HCOP vs. the stock Waterboxer.
I took very precise measurements of everything and anything related to ride height before and after the conversion. When it was all said and done, we lost 1.25 inches of clearance. Hardly anything to turn a nose up to, even for the most hard-core off-roaders. If you feel like that's not good enough Bostig has skid plates available, which if you're that hard-core you would be investing in anyways. If just over an inch of ground clearance is a deal-breaker for you, you are specific use case. I'd be willing to guess that between different vans running the same conversion you'll run into a one inch variance in general. It starts to seem really arbitrary when you think about it.
Bottom line, I feel justified in my decision and research. When you use the HCOP, the difference in clearance is easily sufficient for 99.9% of Vanagons out there.
Before the Bostig, all I knew how to do was basically change my oil. I was a novice coming into this project, no doubt, but I had the drive and desire to pull if off, so I went for it. This conversion kick-started a new part of my life with auto repair. Since completing the conversion, I have fixed many other things on our Vanagon, our second vehicle, and friends and family members cars. The confidence you gain in your ability to fix your own vehicle is potentially the most valuable aspect of Bostig. I will never take any of our vehicles to a mechanic again unless there are highly specialized tools / skills needed, or simply for pure convenience. I've already saved us, and our friends and family, thousands of dollars combined with other fixes outside of the Vanagon world.
One specific example of this...shortly after the Bostig was completed, we took the Vanagon on an out-of-state trip and our fuel pump failed, leaving us waiting for a tow truck on the interstate. Once we got towed to a hotel for the night (we broke down around 9:00pm), I simply started searching for a new pump to install myself. We had the part in-hand the next morning, and we were back on the road in just a couple of hours, with me doing the repair in a hotel parking lot! Before the Bostig I never would have had the confidence to tackle such an issue on my own. That single repair probably saved us a couple of hundred bucks, not to mention a bunch of time trying to find a mechanic that was open on a Sunday.
SIDE NOTE: If you DON'T have the desire to follow through, the drive to do it right, and the ability to follow instructions (you know who you are!!), then this kit, nor any other kit out there, will be a good fit for you. If you're that type of a person, you seriously just need to hire out someone to do your engine conversion. I know that probably sounds harsh, but I've seen it happen many times over the last few years where people muck-up a perfectly good product due to their own shortcomings, and then they have the gall to complain about the product?! Unreal. End rant.
The new Zetec engine is OBDII. That means you get modern engine diagnostics with error codes, etc. That also means you can use something like an UltraGuage, which is exactly what we decided to do. Being able to use this device is awesome, and should basically be a requirement in my opinion. Once everything is setup and calibrated, you can actually see your gauges! For me in particular, I never had a clear line-of-sight for the stock speedometer and engine temp needle. The steering wheel blocks my view, and I was always craning my neck to see, which was super annoying. Now the UltraGuage is mounted front-and-center for easy viewing...speed, RPMs, engine temp, trip odometer, etc. (There's dozens of options to choose from.) Probably the best unexpected positive of the UltraGauge is that we now have a digital read-out for gallons remaining in our fuel tank. No more guessing, woo hoo!
Lastly, when you're done, the conversion is super simple. I can't imagine a much easier engine to work on than the Zetec. The few items we needed to look at post-install were easily accessible without being a contortionist. One big reason for this is that the Zetec takes up much less space than the old WBX. I've never understood when other people say their new conversion (Subarus, diesels, etc.) "fits like a glove". That's a BAD thing in my opinion. You know what "fit like a glove"? The old Waterboxer! And guess what, it was such a pain to access anything. You have so much room with the Zetec. No more cramming your hands/arms/tools into impossibly tight spaces. Just reach in and grab what you're working on. I'll take simple over "gloves" every time.
Reviews are highly subjective, and I know mine will be scrutinized as such, but after everything was all said and done, there are only two things that I feel like are legitimate complaints:
1a. Documentation: Pictures
I’m a visual learner, and unfortunately pictures are pretty scarce in the Bostig manual. I got through it by reading the text several times over, but man, "a picture is worth a thousand words" could never be more true for a newbie like me. You could basically make me a picture book and I would be good to go, ha. If you come in with some wrenching experience this is likely less of an issue.
1b. Documentation: General
We were part of Retail Group 5 (RG5) but the manual was technically from RG1. There weren't major changes, per se, but some sections really needed updating. There were 17 document updates that had to be waded through separately. The High Capacity Oil Pan (HCOP) had two updates. This was frustrating and/or confusing at times. Remember, I had zero DIY experience going into this, so I got hung up on some areas where I eventually figured out the manual was simply out of date. Someone with more experience may have recognized this sooner, but I lost several hours due to this. Suffice to say, it was definitely time for a refreshed version of the manual. (Apparently I was a little unlucky with this, as RG6 had a newly updated manual.)
Also, there were some other organizational issues that took some getting used to. For example, there was a flow-chart at the top, which was nice, but then the manual did not follow through in the same order. Along the same line, finding the "big picture" order of stuff was a little confusing at times. I realize that many of the sections could be completed in any order that you want, but having a more specific order of operations seems like it would have been beneficial. Again, I was coming into this a total amateur. Someone more experienced may have breezed past some (all?) of this stuff with no problem.
With all of that being said, luckily, none of the above issues were very common nor major. Also, I will be the first one to say that proper documentation is hard. Was the manual sufficient? Yes. Could it be better? Yes. Documentation is tough because it's basically never ending. The few articles I've done here on vanagon.org are much more simple than a whole conversion, yet I've found myself going back years later and updating something in a more clear fashion. It can literally be endless for Jim at this point. No small task, that is certain.
2. High Capacity Oil Pan (HCOP)
This thing is actually pretty straight-forward to install EXCEPT, the two hard-to-reach bolts that are located on the inside of the oil pan. For whatever reason, these two are not accessible on the outside. I would gladly sacrifice any gained volume this design provides versus a re-designed pan that moves these two bolts to the outside. Also, the access panel for the pick-up tube needs to be ever-so-slightly enlarged. Life would be SO much easier if there was just a tiny bit more space to get a wrench in there.
I'm no engineer, so maybe I have no clue what I'm talking about. I'm sure someone will let me know if so! Ha.
The bottom line is that any negatives far outweigh the positives. I haven't even mentioned the fact that one month after completion we had only driven about 325 miles (it was winter), and had only gone on the freeway twice; so just barely broken in. Well, I loaded up and took our Vanagon on an 1,800+ mile road trip from Michigan to North Carolina and back. (With Bostig's blessing of course!) I packed a bunch of tools expecting the shakedown process to cause some issues. Guess what happened? Nada. Nothing. Zilch. Cruised 70+ all day long with nothing as much as a hiccup. Pretty amazing frankly!
Post Install Issues
After putting some miles on your new conversion, you'll almost certainly discover some loose ends that need to be tied up. Here's what popped up for us. These were all super easy fixes:
- Removed the spacers on the engine mounts, as the oil cap was hitting the deck lid.
- The throttle cable was rubbing on the deck lid heat shield, causing the sheathing to get damaged. I simply wrapped a piece of fuel hose around it and secured it in place with electrical tape. Good to go ever since.
- Discovered I that I re-mounted the front support bracket for the transaxle in the wrong holes. Took about an hour to fix by the time it was all said and done. What tipped me off was that the shifting was a little sticky, but nothing crazy. This wasn't horrible to redo, as luckily I did not have to redo all of the engine cradle mounts (yet again). Technically my fault, but a reminder in the manual would have been nice. (I believe the new manual does indeed have a reminder.)
Again, these above items were extremely minor, and It's potentially unfair to even call them "issues". In my opinion, there was only one "real issue" with the post-install shakedown, and it was this:
- In Part 2 of our install, during the First Start and First Drive we encountered some weird RPM hiccups. These mostly occurred between gears when shifting. There would be a temporary spike in the RPMs, sometimes hanging there for a couple of seconds, but then would go back to normal once you shifted to the next gear, or simply waited a few seconds. Sometimes the idle would be a little inconsistent too, but not always.
To backtrack a little...the original IAC valve that came with the engine was shot. It had a bunch of gunk in it that I tried cleaning on three separate occasions. No luck. I was in a pinch to get out of a borrowed garage, so I had to pick up a new one at the nearest source. Thinking the brand didn't matter, we assumed the new part was good to go. Trusting this new part was ultimately our downfall. Even thought there was a marked improvement after installing the FLAPS IAC valve, this was simply due to the original one basically not working at all. So with the new part technically working, the weird RPMs persisted. The next thing we checked was the throttle cable. It was winter and we thought that it was freezing up some how. After double and triple-checked anything and everything that related to the throttle cable, the issue still persisted. Considering the borrowed garage, everything worked "good enough" so I was able to vacate the garage and started using the van.
At this point, basically the only thing left was pointing back to the new IAC, which is why this took so long to sort out. You'd figure the new part would work properly, but this was not the case. Even though we weren't 100% convinced, I finally got to a point and just said "screw it", and ordered the genuine Ford / Motorcraft part. It took just a couple of minutes to install and the results were instant. Everything was fixed! Weird RPMs, etc., were no more. No drivability issues, as evidenced by the previous multi-state round-trip. But, it was a minor yet persistent annoyance. We were stumped for so long because of a new, unworthy FLAPS brand part. The van was in minimal usage anyways, due to it being winter. Good to go 100% now!
Lesson learned, if you need a new IAC, do NOT cheap-out and get a FLAPS version! In the end this was an easy fix, but tougher to diagnose due to being misled by a faulty FLAPS-brand part.
Plan Ahead Tips
Between Tasca and RockAuto we saved a boatload of money on our OEM Ford parts. Amazon was our go-to source for tools and supplies. Obviously if we needed something in a pinch we used local sources, like Sears, Costco, Home Depot, Lowe's Autozone, Napa, etc.
We ordered our kit in late winter / early spring of 2015, with a delivery date of mid / late summer 2015. Since I basically sat around all summer doing nothing, which ultimately pushed out my completion date by a good month or two. Knowing what I now know, this is what I should have been doing while waiting for the Bostig parts to show up:
- Get an engine asap. Get all of the prep work done before the Bostig kit starts showing up. Efficient use of time. I “wasted” a lot of time when I was under pressure to finish by working on stuff that could/should have been done prior to the Bostig parts ever showing up. I feel like there was not enough emphasis given to this fact. If you ALL possible prep work prior to the Bostig parts showing up, you probably could knock out the Bostig parts over a weekend. If you don't start on anything until you have everything, like I did, it feels like a much bigger project that takes much longer. If you drive your Vanagon as a daily driver this couldn't really be avoided. But if your Vanagon is a second vehicle then your future self will thank you for tackling as much as you can as soon as you can.
- Closely related to #1, get your parts and supplies right away too. There's a fairly big list of parts that you get on your own. I didn't really start ordering this stuff until the Bostig kit started showing up. I “lost” a bunch of time scrambling for everything, not to mention it added a rush/stress factor that could have been avoided.
- Speaking of parts, let's talk upgrades. Technically all of these are optional. However, one upgrade could easily be argued as a requirement, and that's the High Capacity Oil Pan. The stock pan hangs down pretty low. And let's be real, most people's vans are running with old, sagging suspensions (like ours), so that only adds fuel to the fire. There are plenty of people using the stock oil pan just fine, I even know of someone with a Syncro that still runs the stock pan. However, many of them have already refreshed their suspension for better clearance. So, unless you've already done the same, the HCOP is pretty much a no-brainer. Also, if you drive off road on a regular basis this is even more so. Our van is 99% paved roads, but I have no regrets going with the HCOP. I'm not sure I've ever heard someone regretting this upgrade.
- CV joint bolts. If you have M8 triple square bolts you'll need the uncommon socket/bit. For that matter, Allen wrench (or hex key) sockets aren’t exactly common for DIY mechanics. My CVs ending up needing both! (CV bolts are torqued to 33 foot pounds, FYI.)
- Replace the timing belt, water pump, and associated pulleys when you’re doing the cam timing. This is not mentioned in the manual as it's technically not required. However, this would be very short-sighted to overlook these wear items, in my opinion. Certainly easier to access everything with the engine out of the van.
- Similar to #5, unless your clutch is new, you might as well do some preventative maintenance and put in a new one. Most Vanagons by now are 150,000+ miles. $150 - $200 bucks and five minutes right now will save you multiple hours later on.
- An engine hoist (a.k.a., shop crane) is a must. An engine stand was a complete waste of time, effort, and money for me. Unless you have a physical issue with working on your back, getting a creeper would be a better purchase. It will likely cost less and can be used throughout the entire conversion process and beyond. People apparently like the engine stands for installing the HCOP. After wasting a bunch of time getting it set up, I eventually chose not to use the engine stand. The hardest part of the HCOP is fitting your hand into a tight space. Using a stand vs. a hoist made no difference for me.
- Drilling into metal was a new skill for me. You will need:
- A metal punch for accurate placement to start your hole. This is a must, or your drill bit will wander resulting in sloppy holes.
- A step drill bit for drilling.
- It would be wise to replace all coolant hoses not covered in the kit. These are:
- Front hoses at radiator connections.
- Long hoses from front to back if desired. These are more expensive though, especially if you go stainless.
- I didn't replace any of these because I didn't know any better. The radiator hoses are especially applicable to change here. Ours seemed really old and were hard to work with, but by that point in the conversion I simply did not have time to order new ones. I'm sure I will be replacing them in the near future.
- If I ever do another conversion, I think I'll just plan on replacing all of the secondary parts right off the bat. Stuff like the coil pack, spark plug wires, IAC, emission hoses, PCV...pretty much everything. I did most of this, but sure enough, many of the ones that I did not replace gave me trouble upon first start / drive. I know, it'll cost some extra money which is the last thing most people want to hear at this point. However, spending a couple / few hundred dollars now could save you lots of time trouble-shooting (time is money), not to mention it's preventative maintenance. I don't expect to touch any of these parts for many, many miles, or maybe ever again. Reliability was the name of the game for us, so it was a no-brainer for me to pull the trigger on some “extra” new parts. And lastly, it will never be easier to work on your engine then when it's outside of your van. Most of these parts are pretty easy to replace, but that's even more true during your install.
Cost Breakdown & Time Log
This is one of the more common questions I see asked, so I tracked everything down to the penny and minute. The below spreadsheet should be pretty self-explanatory.
This is a running total of mileage and yearly updates. Standard "car stuff" will NOT be covered here, such as oil changes, coolant flushes, etc. That's a given for any vehicle to operate properly. This is meant to document any issues that we come across, and to give an overall view of how the conversion performs over time. This will be continuously updated until the day comes when we get rid of our van, or for some crazy reason we switch to a different conversion:
< 325 miles
14 February 2016
- Removed the spacers on the engine mounts, as the oil cap was hitting the deck lid.
- Throttle cable was rubbing on the deck lid heat shield and getting damaged. I simply wrapped a piece of fuel hose around it and secured it in place with electrical tape.
15 February 2016
- Left for a Michigan to North Carolina trip. One month after the install. Only drove on the freeway two times before going all-in on a trip to NC and back...1,800 miles. (First with Bostig's blessing, of course!)
- Still trying to sort out the RPM hiccups.
4 April 2016
- New Ford IAC installed. (More details about this found above.) Huge improvement! Fixed all of the weird RPMs, etc. This was the one and only "real" lingering issue from the conversion. No drivability issues, per se, as evidenced by the previous multi-state round-trip. But, it was a minor yet persistent annoyance. We were stumped for so long because of a new, unworthy FLAPS brand part. The van was in minimal usage anyways, due to it being winter. Good to go 100% now!
20 May 2016
- Another Michigan to North Carolina trip. Our fuel pump failed on the way home in VA. This is no fault of the Bostig. However, thanks to the experience gained doing the Bostig conversion, I had the confidence to swap out a new pump in a hotel parking lot! This all happened on a Saturday night and Sunday morning. Most mechanics aren't open during that timeframe. Thankfully a parts store was open, though. Once I got my hands on the new pump we were on the road in just a couple of hours.
15 January 2017
- 1-year anniversary! 10,550 miles in the first year is more than double what the van had seen in the previous 3+ years combined. Under our ownership, it had seen less than 4,000 miles before the old Waterboxer started to really act up on us. We didn't trust it any farther than we were willing to tow it. Now with the Bostig, not only do we take it on long trips, but it also serves as a daily driver for a family of five.
- Discovered that I did not attach a ground wire for the new ECU. Doh! Apparently no big deal for our van, but I've seen other people where not having this attached prevented their van from starting.
25 September 2017
- Took several problem-free trips to Northern Michigan over the spring and summer.
- We now live in North Carolina. For our move we towed the Vanagon simply due to no A/C in the summer.